Commentary: The column I'll write when cancer is cured

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. KRT

This is not the column I really want to write.

The column I want to write will be written with church bells pealing, and the lead will be an announcement that cancer is over, the cure has been found and, henceforth, no more mothers, brothers, sisters and sons will be stolen by that killer. The column I want to write will be a celebration.

This column will be a report to my investors, written not with church bells pealing, but with feet up, callused, blistered and tender to the touch. As some of you know, last weekend, I walked in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day For The Cure, a 60-mile hike to raise money against breast cancer. Powered by 514 investors in that cause -- i.e., incredibly generous readers -- I managed to raise over $28,000. And yes, I walked every single one of those 60 miles, roughly the equivalent of walking from Miami to Boynton Beach, Houston to Galveston, Toledo to Detroit.

So here is my report: We started out early Friday from Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., with the sound of Walking On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves blasting into the chill morning air. We ended up Sunday afternoon, a sea of pink and white, marching, walking, limping, 10 abreast down Northwest 15th Street onto the grounds of the Washington Monument through a thunder of cheers.

In between there was: line dancing at a major intersection; men in pink tutus serving as crossing guards; gallons of Gatorade; miles of gauze; hills that went up forever; a little girl offering M&Ms to walkers passing by; a woman with the cropped hair of the chemo patient, holding up a sign that said, You're Walking For Me.

And there was: the grandeur of the U.S. Capitol building shortly after dawn, the serenity of a suburban lake, bridges and railroad tracks, buckled sidewalks and shading trees and the visceral jolt of passing by some dispossessed family's things falling apart out on the curb, bedding and books and a forlorn teddy bear that had lost its child.

And there was: the encouragement from strangers greeting you with high fives and cars tooting their horns, and attaboys from little kids and adrenaline sipped from the words and rhythms of pop songs -- Motown, the Beatles, Frankie Beverly and Maze singing, "I'm so happy to see you and me back in stride again," Edwin Starr shouting, "I got to keep on walkin'!'' and the theme from Rocky pushing us up another godforsaken hill.

And there was: steak for dinner, portable johns, shower trucks, thank God for whoever invented the massage chair, quiet talking with new friends whose names you don't know, huddling under covers in your tent, cold, aching, satisfied.

You know, we are sometimes afflicted with inertia, a tendency to regard certain challenges as too big, certain problems as too intractable. A fondness for the helpless shrug.

That we have no reason to be so cowed, so bereft of imagination and respectful of limitation, is as obvious as footprints on the moon, or children who've never heard of polio, or the black man in the Oval Office. Yet for all the miracles to which we have borne witness, we still sometimes allow inertia to hold us.

The 3-Day was the opposite of inertia. Sitting in camp, watching people swarm about -- crew members serving meals, handing out towels, cheering stragglers, walkers hobbling about seeking food or gauze or a cellphone charger -- I thought of ants. Ants don't know from inertia. They have a goal: to build and expand their underground cities. And they do achieve this by working cooperatively, moving earth one grain at a time.

Last weekend, some of us moved grains of earth toward our goal: a cancer-free world.

And it occurs to me that when I finally get to write the column I want to write, it will not need to be overly long. Indeed, I'll be able to look back to these three days and say what needs saying in just that many words:

We did it.


Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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